The superficiality of Christmas is all around – in the Christmas shopping, the giving of gifts to one another, the focus on Santa, the romanticising of snowy settings and Christmas trees. A little closer to Scripture are the lit-up displays of the bright star, the magi and the manger. But even then the outward glitter does little to focus on why the star, the magi and the manger pointed to the Christ of the Scriptures. For so many the real reason has become merely a fable to be forgotten. But for us, Christ is the light of the world whose coming dispels the darkness into which we had plunged ourselves by our sins.
The magi from the east had seen something of that light. Ah yes, those magi. The Bible doesn’t give their names. They came from the east of Israel, from Mesopotamia, bringing their gifts – gold, incense, myrrh – for the King, the Messiah, God in the flesh. They came from the old paradise land – the area of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. God lured them from the land of the first Adam to that of the second Adam, lured them to the Light of the world by means of a light in the sky.
Perhaps they’d heard something about the Messiah? Years ago Abraham’s descendants had been in exile in their country – in Babylon. Those Israelites believed in a coming Messiah of whom the prophets had spoken. Moreover Daniel had once stood at the head of the wise men of the east, of the Babylonian magi, and he had believed in the promised Messiah.
But these wise men, these astrologers from the east, also had a belief system whereby they associated a falling star with the death of a king, and a new star with the birth of a king. It was part of these stargazers’ mythology. And now God, in His grace, uses that combination of previous prophecy and their belief system to direct them to the Christ. He gave a new star. He used a sign which they themselves invented to help them come to God’s Word in Scripture.
However, although creation points to God, only His Word points to His salvation. In Psalm 19 we read that the spacious heavens laud the glory of God. However this Psalm goes on to show that it is God’s Word that converts the soul (vs 7-9). From nature to Scripture is progress. And it is to Scripture the wise men must go to direct them.
When the magi arrive in Jerusalem they find a people living in darkness, in ignorance of the miracle of Christ’s birth. Asleep to the expectation of the coming Messiah the people of Jerusalem are less than enthusiastic about the good news; they’re even disturbed. Especially Herod. The scribes are able to tell him that the place to find the miracle child would have to be Bethlehem. But do they then accompany the magi to Bethlehem? No, they go to their homes and Herod stays in his palace.
The magi, however, are excited and, even though it is dark, head straight for Bethlehem. God had used the star to entice them to search for the newborn king, but it was His Word that directed them to Bethlehem. Yet once they head for Bethlehem the star appears to them again, but that star is now subservient to Scripture’s directive.
God graciously holds onto the magi. He used Daniel’s prophecy and a star to lead them to Micha’s prophecy about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem.
Probably the magi, as they set out on their journey, had in mind a picture of a messiah in palatial surroundings and clothed in fine clothes, but Scripture removes piece by piece the image the magi had. They discover that the Messiah is not, as might be expected, born in a palace, wrapped in finery, hailed with great fanfare, joy and feasting, all prepared in readiness for His arrival. Instead they find Him in a stall, in an insignificant little town whose only claim to fame lies in a Bible text: the prophecy that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.
Why? Because God’s Word shows that humiliation comes before exaltation, that being brought very, very low is for the Messiah a condition to being exalted to be seated at the right hand of the God the Father. It is on account of our sins, on account of the curse that lay on us, that the Messiah must endure humiliation and suffering and the way of the cross before coming to glory.
Yet despite the impoverishment and humility of the surroundings the magi fall down on their knees and worship Him. For the prophecies of old had spoken of the coming Messiah. and though the star may have enticed them to set out, it is divine Scripture that leads them to Him. And having come to Him the fall down in worship and present their gifts. They have been brought out of darkness to the true light. When God speaks in nature, that is much. When God speaks in the prophecies of old, that is more. When those prophecies lead one to worship the Son, the Word become flesh, that is most of all.
How beautiful is the magi’s kneeling before God’s Word in the flesh. Falling down in true eastern style they worship. True, they haven’t yet understood it all. Later the full gospel will spread to their country – Mesopotamia – and over the world.
That is the gospel that leads us, too, to worship the Lord, the Messiah, God in the flesh, the Lamb of God, the promised Saviour, who takes the curse of our sins upon Himself. It is He alone who reconciles us to the Father, removing the mountain of our debts that stood between Him and us. He grants us faith, breaks the shackles that tie us to Satan, and renews us so that we worship Him.
Let us now do so in deep gratitude and heartfelt love and obedience from day to day. For we are unimpressed by the superficiality and romanticising of Christmas all around us. Nor have we need of a star in the sky to lead us. Through God’s Spirit we have learnt from Scripture to see and believe the inexpressible greatness of His love for us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh.